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INTRODUCTION

Joe Kember, John Plunkett and Jill A. Sullivan


A living electrical eel (Gymnotus) was brought here from South America in 1838: its length was forty inches, and it resembled in appearance dark puce-and-brown plush, such as was then in fashion for waistcoats. Professor Faraday obtained from it a most intense electric spark; and by one shock not only was the galvanometer deflected, but chemical action and magnetic induction were obtained. The eel died in 1842. There had not been one exhibited in London for more than sixty years, when five shillings was the admission charge for each visitor.1

The connection between science, showmanship and popular display was enduringly compelling for nineteenth-century audiences in Britain. Writing in 1872, in the Leisure Hour, John Timbs remembered some of the most popular of the scientific exhibitions that had taken place in London during the preceding fifty years. The electric eel employed by Faraday was, in fact, one of several that would be exhibited at the Adelaide Gallery of Practical Science on the Strand this time for just one shilling where feeding time proved to be an especially attractive performance once it was realized that the fishes captured their prey by discharging an electric shock.2 Faradays experiment and more general zoological accounts of the acquisition, careful nursing and behaviour of the eel were reported widely, not least by Timbs himself, who, as founding editor of the Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art, had given the fish star-billing on the frontispiece of the 1840 edition.3 The eventual death of the Faraday eel was remarked upon by the national press, the story of the eel then entering firmly into the annals of popular science, to be repeated regularly by Timbs and others in the decades to come.4 Timbs was himself a prolific popularizer of science, who, in addition to his editorial work, authored numerous volumes on related subjects, and at the age of 71, returned with palpable nostalgia to a select anthology of nigh-canonized shows and scientific venues within the capital. He chronicled the most fondly remembered attractions on offer at the Adelaide Gallery, the National Repository in Charing Cross, the Polytechnic Institution on Regents Street, the Panopticon of Science and Art and the Panorama on Leicester Square, the Colosseum in Regents Park and, amongst numerous lecturing societies, singled

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out the London Mechanics Institution for praise. Under the influence of such agencies, Timbs explained, science had become a remarkably pervasive concern, a routine part of the commerce of everyday life. Indeed, returning once again to the frontispiece of his 1840 Year-Book of Facts in Science and Art, a sentence from the Rev. Vernon Harcourts presidential address at the 1839 annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was reprinted, in which he had proclaimed that the very amusements, as well as the conveniences of life, have taken a scientific colour.5 But the phrase was perhaps even more apt than Timbs needed to suggest in his survey of grand metropolitan amusements. Nineteenth-century culture was certainly characterized by a proliferation of shows and exhibitions, encouraged by the development of new sciences and technologies together with changes in transportation, education and leisure patterns. But shows offering scientific instruction and/or amusement took place in towns and cities across Britain, and not only in mechanics and literary institutes, museum galleries and other large exhibition spaces, but in music halls, town halls and church halls. The burgeoning variety of scientific shows, lectures, demonstrations and exhibitions was an important part of a nascent national entertainment industry but also contributed to the rise of local civic cultures, reflecting the investment of regional audiences in modern technological and scientific advances. Such shows also spilled out into the streets and fairgrounds, whether through the grand parades of menageries, the optical trickery of fairground ghost shows, or the cries of itinerant exhibitors of microscopes and telescopes. Indeed, while many of such showmen presumably did not see themselves primarily as popularizers of science, and would not have entered into Timbss estimation as such, they impinged on the everyday lives of Victorian citizens persistently and pervasively, marketing popular science across class boundaries and in all corners of the country. They were aligned with the burgeoning periodical press as a means of distributing and capitalizing upon the advancement of scientific knowledge, but because such shows were often inexpensive and did not require literacy (nor always any profound interest in scientific matters) from their audiences, their reach was arguably even more extensive. This volume is dedicated to uncovering and examining the performative and theatrical dimensions of the varied and wide-reaching culture of scientific exhibitions. Collectively, the contributions create a nuanced picture of the modes of performance, showmanship and display that made possible the subtle but pervasive influence of popular scientific knowledge. As Iwan Morus has argued: Performances making science and its products visible, pulling in the crowds and amazing them with natures wonders, were part and parcel of the business of making science and its products real to their audiences.6 But these performances varied significantly depending on when and where they occurred, the technological, human and animal resources that constituted it, and the expectations

Introduction

and knowledges both fashioned by the showman and brought independently by audiences to the display or performance. Among the exhibitions discussed by the essays in this volume are magic lantern shows, lectures, electrical experiments, panoramas, spiritualist sances, freak shows, demonstrations of natural magic, the conversaziones of scientific societies, Egyptian mummy unwrappings and displays of foreign peoples. Each of these had its own particular space, strategy and language of display, as well as drawing on and being contextualized by the showmanship of other forms of popular entertainment. Recent years have seen a critical reconsideration of the varied content and theatrical character of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century shows, particularly those operating under the broad rubric of popular science.7 A proliferation of new digital resources has opened up access to a wealth of national and local newspapers, books, journals, letters and printed ephemera; aptly they have democratized an area of study that has always had to negotiate not only the inherent transience of exhibition culture, where the solitary documentary record of an individual show might be a review or handbill, but the fact that the necessary archival sources are often held by libraries access to which can be geographically impractical for researchers.8 Scholars in the diverse fields of history of science, Victorian studies, history of art, music, film studies, museum studies and theatre history have been able to create more detailed accounts of venues, audience experiences and composition, and the business and performance practices of showmen.9 The complex historical picture that is emerging alternatively fleshes out and problematizes some of the stimulating yet totalizing theoretical narratives around concepts of spectacle, the politics of display, popular culture, showmanship, class and leisure. There is now a much greater sense of the variegated strata and spaces of exhibitions, from fairgrounds and penny gaffs through to electrical demonstrations at genteel fetes or soires. This work has gone handin-hand with more sophisticated accounts of the way that scientific showmen and audiences interacted. For if commentators such as Timbs often focused almost exclusively on larger, more legitimate and London-based scientific attractions, they also tended to underestimate the important roles played by popular showmanship in even these grandest of venues, of the kind that also served the most humble of itinerant exhibitors. Faradays eel, which Timbs referred back to on so many occasions, is in many respects an ideal example of effective showmanship at work in a relatively grand and legitimate setting. The eel had proven a fascinatingly bizarre attraction in its own right, but it was the showmans knack for understanding what would attract the public coupled with an ability to frame the exhibit in a manner that brought broader cultural resonances to bear, that turned the humble, waistcoat-coloured fish into such a successful and memorable attraction, continuing to thrive in the popular imagination for decades. During the exhibition it had become legiti-

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mately linked to specialist scientific discourses concerning electricity, zoology and anatomy, and its capture in the Amazon, careful transportation to London and fostering at the Adelaide Gallery of Practical Science neatly reflected the capitals presumptive status as a rational, but nurturing colonial centre. Like good showmen, individuals such as Faraday and Timbs latched onto these features, which gave the fish its manifold cultural connotations, then presented it as a wriggling, slimy and alien embodiment of these connotations for a public predisposed to be fascinated by them. Showmanship in such cases consisted of framing the eel, in itself a creature as culturally neutral as any other, so that it might serve a number of valuable cultural functions, in this instance especially furthering popular scientific and imperial agendas.10 Showmanship, broadly conceived, can be regarded as one of the features that successful scientific exhibitors of all classes held in common, yet the nature of showmanship as a profession has always been uneven. As Iwan Morus argues, Looking at performances should also get us thinking about science in terms of doing rather than writing, aesthetic pleasure rather than hard reason. Scientific performances were and are calculated to appeal to the senses rather than the intellect, however they might be glossed otherwise.11 Works by Bernard Lightman, Ralph OConnor, Aileen Fyfe and Simon During have challenged simplistic notions of rational recreation by demonstrating the ubiquitous yet uneasy fusion between improvement, amusement and spectacle that was crucial to the broad appeal of many exhibitions.12 Crucially, Fyfe and Lightman in their 2007 collection, Science in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century Sites and Experiences shifted attention towards new readings of the roles of sites and experiences. Dealing with the wide variety of possible exhibition spaces and audiences, the collection explored the questions of where might people encounter and interact with the sciences, and what sort of experiences might they have there?13 Our volume seeks to extend the scope of these questions still further, acknowledging that a great deal of research remains to be done on the creative interaction between science, showmanship and the bewildering range of nineteenth-century exhibition formats. This book brings together scholars from different disciplines in order to highlight new approaches to scientific showmanship and display. In addition to extending our knowledge of the nineteenth-century scientific marketplace, the books focus on showmanship and display seeks to contribute to a modified understanding of the institutional, spatial and sensory aspects of the nature of performance of nineteenth-century popular science. For showmen, lecturers and exhibitors working across all of these professions, popular science, its privileged discourses and objects, were an invaluable resource that could be played out fluidly during any number of performances, and according to the demands of an equally wide range of possible institutional configurations and local spaces, from the tradition of the lecture theatre to the freak show. In

Introduction

such hands, scientific material might sometimes occupy the centre stage, but for audiences it could also prove supplementary to other forms of attraction, to the experience of spectacle, to a sense of engagement with a particular performer, or even to a communal sense that attendance of the show was just good fun. This emphasis on science as a resource, a part of the repertoire of popular shows brilliantly researched in Richard Alticks The Shows of London, does not, however, imply that science was only a marginal component of British showlands. On the contrary, this book demonstrates that science was a much more engrained presence within varied Victorian entertainment cultures than has previously been assumed, and that it therefore proved integral to institutions far divorced from those cherished by Thomas Huxley, and even by popularizers such as Timbs. Above all, this emphasis on the institutional dynamics at work within highly varied shows returns attention to the work of exhibition and performance, and especially to the creative opportunities and moral tensions around the theatrical character of many Victorian scientific exhibitions. It highlights the fluidity of the two-way exchange whereby ostensibly improving shows often borrowed exhibition practices from spectacular entertainment formats and, conversely, popular exhibitions such as freak shows often employed the respectable rhetoric of science and medicine. It is within this hugely productive melange of influences between high and low cultural forms, between discourses of improvement and novelty, and between attention and distraction that the protean tactics and aesthetics of showmanship took root in popular scientific shows. Showmen had long been credited with the ability to turn apparently innocuous objects into popular exhibits, employing a kind of native cunning closely akin to streetsense in order to assess the proclivities of their varied audiences. That model of showmanship, most obviously embodied from the 1840s in the figure of P. T. Barnum, was also widely promoted by the showmen themselves, who tended to encourage their audiences to adopt a similarly knowing attitude to the spectacles on offer before them. But this was a feature, too, of exhibitors and lecturers, such as those at Mechanics Institutes, who tended to distance themselves, as much as possible from notions of showmanship. Our volume is divided into four interlinked parts; each part focuses on a particular conceptual issue for understanding and elaborating the showmanship and performance of popular science. Part I, Science and Spectacle, fleshes out and historicizes the tangled issue of what it meant to be presented as a spectacle, exploring whether it was determined by the exhibition space, a particular mode of showmanship, or by audience reaction. Spectacle is often associated with visuality and Part II, Word and Image, extends existing work on the specific verbal and visual techiques (and technologies) used to engage audiences of popular science. Showmanship, particularly that which created wonder and illusion, invariably ran the risk of being derided as nothing but a show or specta-

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cle, and Part III, Staging Knowledge, details how, at a time when what counted as science was itself constantly being debated, different forms of showmanship sought to fashion scientific authority and status. Finally, Part IV, The Politics of Display, argues for the importance of topicality in understanding the appeal of exhibitions, as well as for the politics of knowledge embedded in the interactions between donors, curators, institutions and different scientific communities.

Part I: Science and Spectacle


For scholars of nineteenth-century popular culture and entertainment, whether writing on astronomical lectures at the turn of the century or the arrival of the cinematograph at its end, notions of spectacle and its cultural ramifications have proven highly productive.14 It is worth asking though whether the notion of spectacle, as currently employed, is still a useful one within such work. Samuel Johnsons Dictionary of the English Language (1755) defined spectacle as A show; a gazing stock; anything exhibited to the view as eminently remarkable, emphasizing notions of visuality and drawing especially upon ideas of excessive display.15 However, as Jonathan Crary explains, this understanding has been complicated in the twentieth century by studies emphasizing the ideological work of spectacle, which have drawn out the equally ancient notion that spectacle implies an organization of appearances that are simultaneously enticing, deceptive, distracting, and superficial.16 Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School critiques of Adorno and Horkheimer stress the notion of spectacle as commodified entertainment within a mass culture industry, a perspective that has proven productive in work concerning nineteenth-century urban culture and early cinema.17 This perspective was then both extended and critiqued through Guy Debords critique of spectacle and Jean Baudrillards hyperrealism.18 However, though the currency of the term spectacle (and also of sensation or attraction) during the nineteenth century was clearly tied to definitions of the periods modernity, this association risks producing a relatively impoverished understanding of both terms. Modernity can be characterized as much by its marketing of relatively traditional, reassuring forms and expressions as by its creation of spectacle, novelty or distraction; equally, the effects created by spectacles within popular shows were as heterogeneous as the entertainments themselves, prompting the emergence of a more fragmented definition, one more openly engaged with the full spread of phenomena the term described. As several studies dealing with very different exhibition forms have remarked, popular sensationalism was rarely received in a straightforward, unquestioning manner; on the contrary, fascination with the spectacular might provoke intense curiosity, detached amusement, condemnation or a knowing appreciation for the achievement of the effect, as well as the easy caricature of open-mouthed,

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Introduction

gawping wonderment.19 Thus, while this book does not seek to question the validity and productivity of dominant approaches to the spectacular, the variety of histories described by our contributors demonstrate that nineteenth-century spectacle was a highly complex, multifaceted phenomenon, composed of all manner of attractions that functioned quite differently for different audiences. Drawing upon exhibition and performance histories that stretch well back in many cases to the eighteenth century and earlier, spectacular shows took numerous forms and the local context of action for these forms needs to be understood before the complex set of interactions between terms as grand as spectacle and modernity can be more fully characterized. One aspect of the increasingly historicized definition of spectacle has been an elaboration of the embodied experience of different types of spectacle, countering the tendency to abstraction in the concept of spectacle-as-commodity.20 Recent work in the history of science has fed into this, emphasizing the way that new sciences and technologies mapped and expanded the Victorian sensorium. Colette Colligan and Margaret Linley have drawn attention to the number of scientific studies that were part of a larger cultural drive to observe the exciting and unpredictable sensing body and have suggested that Seeing, hearing, and touching were mediated through the instruments of science, measured and objectified for the larger purpose of knowing, educating, and modernizing the senses.21 We now know that popularizers of science regularly turned such scientific and technological phenomena directly to their advantage within a variety of venues, including, but by no means limited to, town halls, lecture theatres, varied provincial scientific and educational institutions, and in exhibition spaces from ephemeral parish bazaars to national museums.22 Adopting experimental techniques, spectacular images or specimens that lent themselves to what Iwan Morus has called the nineteenth-century culture of display, such showmen proved remarkably adaptable, and their reach extended (though not evenly) across geographical, class, gender and age boundaries.23 Bernard Lightmans chapter in this volume provides an exemplary case study of a single venue whose spectacular content has been represented incompletely by previous work. Focussing upon Wylds Great Globe a site which opened in 1851, but survived for only a decade Lightman shows that in order to sustain a continuous flow of paying customers, it was constantly necessary to renew the nature of the attractions on offer. Best known among these was surface representation of the earth, modelled in plaster of Paris, on its interior surface, a remarkable innovation lauded by scientists and popular reviews alike, and which has remained a fascinating paradigm, alongside the Great Exhibition, for a midcentury alignment of scientific, colonial and exhibitionary ambitions. However, Lightman demonstrates that the Globe was a hybrid in other respects, too. At various stages in its history it staged scenes of current events that were occupying the

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public imagination; drawing inspiration from other large-scale entertainments on offer in Leicester Square, it included a programme of popular lectures and ran museum-style exhibitions, as well as offering a changing selection of panoramas and dioramas. In the meantime it maintained the geographical spectacle that had made it famous. Ultimately, the hybridity of the show meant that it embodied an interpenetration of science and popular entertainment on a grand scale. However, hybridity was a dominant characteristic of shows on a much smaller scale, too. As John Plunkett and Jill Sullivan argue, recent studies have seen an important shift from the metropolis and towards the multiple exhibition cultures of smaller towns and cities across Britain. Work of this kind has focused upon the pervasive, everyday interpenetrations of science and spectacle taking place within civic institutions such as lecturing societies, mechanics institutes, local town and church halls. Broadening our understanding of the pervasiveness of popular science still further, Plunkett and Sullivan demonstrate that even within relatively impoverished centres such as Exeter in the south-west of England, a rich exhibition culture of fetes, bazaars and conversaziones provided local residents with the opportunity to experience scientific phenomena and modern apparatus in a quite different way. For while grand exhibition spaces tended to emphasize large scale spectacles, opening a degree of exhibitionary distance between artefact and observer, and while touring lecturers acquired authority by closely regulating the relationship between audience and projected image or specimen, the society bazaar often encouraged visitors to adopt a much more interactive, hands-on attitude to popular science. In this context, popular science could be incorporated as part of a regionally-inflected civic spectacle, above all celebrating the engagement of local people with icons and artefacts broadly representative of their modern age. Scientific spectacles in the nineteenth century, then, were not only geared to traditions of extravagant display, nor only to the advancement of expert culture (though certainly, at a local level, local experts had a strong role to play in presenting such material to the public). To an extent limited by the mode of display at work at any one site, regional responses to scientific material provided opportunities for local audiences to include themselves within less restrictive, civic spectacles of science. And it should be noted that such opportunities were also available for audiences in metropolitan regions, even at sites such as the Royal Polytechnic or Wylds Globe, where interaction was also encouraged on certain occasions. However, whereas scientific fields such as optics and devices such as the microscope worked very well for the proprietors of bazaars and conversazione, other topics proved both less practical and considerably more controversial when it came to entertaining the general public. The division between self-styled legitimate science and its popularizers was perhaps nowhere more evident than in the field of medicine, a discipline which, in most areas of expertise, grew less

Introduction

inclined to public display as the century progressed. Fiona Pettit charts one aspect of this apparently Foucauldian counter-narrative in her chapter concerning popular freak shows and medicine, but also demonstrates that, in spite of medical attempts to assume authority for the bodies, living and dead, of exhibited freaks, doctors and surgeons retained an uneasily proximate relationship to the practices and discourses of freak showmen until at least the end of the century. Unusual bodies, such as those of hirsute humans, giants and conjoined twins had been exploited within public exhibitions for centuries, though the functions of these bodies changed depending upon the cultures in which they appeared. As a consequence, historians of freak shows have tended to agree that exhibited freaks are better considered as freaks of culture rather than freaks of nature, and their bodies as spectacles of enfreakment.24 Thus, while apparently situated at the margins of normative practices and identities, enfreaked bodies become sharply contested at moments of cultural transition and are central to certain dominant cultures as they emerge. Pettit charts one such transition taking place as Victorian medical authorities simultaneously confronted and absorbed the ancient tradition of freak show. Thus, while the proprietors of freak shows made extensive use of medical testimony in their own publicity, arguably popularizing such specialist discourses, the medical profession found itself strangely compromised, seeking both to distance itself from popular spectacle, but compelled also to make use of the same spectacular techniques that served the showmen. Such thorny interchanges speak at once to the proprietorship, literal and figurative, of enfreaked bodies and the meanings that could legitimately be attributed to them, but they also typify the complexity that potentially attended popular spectacles of all kinds, especially when confronted by a proliferation of expert scientific cultures. Ultimately, the hybrid science/entertainment institutions described by Lightman and Plunkett and Sullivan were models for the educative and civic exploitation of spectacle, but practices of popularization were unevenly embraced across scientific disciplines, making the work of spectacle the subject of urgent debate within some. Fully historicized, sciences relationship to spectacle, then, seems a contradictory, fragmented affair, often characterized better by the emergence of dialogue, sometimes heated, than by frozen images of mute astonishment.

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Part II: Word and Image

Understandably perhaps, work concerning spectacular traditions of display has regularly emphasized the visual components of popular shows. However, though empirically-grounded studies of this kind have typically made expansive use of print reports, reviews, books and ephemera detailing or recalling such shows, the material nature of such texts and the rather more sedate pleasures they sug-

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gested have remained curiously under-examined. Equally, the presence of public speakers of various kinds at image-based shows and exhibitions has attracted relatively little attention within such studies, or has been considered only as a kind of explanatory supplement to the main, optical, event. However, as work concerning Victorian popularizers of science has made abundantly clear, nineteenth-century cultures of scientific display made powerful use of both visual and verbal techniques to fascinate the public. Thus, Lightmans account of the work of Reverend John George Wood and John Henry Pepper not only discusses their use of visual effects in the shows, but carefully details their careers as lecturers and authors.25 More generally, the forms and communicative potential of a burgeoning print culture has occupied a central place in recent work. It was only in the 1820s and 1830s that publications were first produced under the designation popular science,26 while James A. Secord has demonstrated the remarkable impact of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation through its reception and publishing history.27 Books of rational amusements, together with juvenile periodicals such as the Boys Own Annual, were full of experiments that could be conducted within the home and even how-to guides to make your own scientific or optical device.28 Responsibility for these volumes, as well as the specific types of scientific recreations they disseminated, often rested with organizations dedicated to popular improvement and education; Aileen Fyfe, for example, has traced the important work of the Religious Tract Society.29 Recent scholarship has also explored the ways that these books and periodicals interwove text and image in ways that helped to create new, and very diverse, reading audiences for scientific material.30 To a large extent, of course, the use of print or verbal texts within popular shows was associated with the educational or instructive impulses that underpinned so many of them.31 A good lecture or informative pamphlet within exhibitions as diverse as astronomy lectures and freak shows could justifiably be considered to heighten the rational component of these amusements, sometimes helping to legitimize the delivery of spectacular content. However, it would be a mistake to associate the visual uniquely with varied ideas of spectacle, or to suggest that spoken or written material was automatically opposed to the spectacular, always tending to justify or temper it. For example, 360 panoramic images had the capacity to provoke prolonged periods of reflection in their audiences, and magic lantern slides were often carefully staged and sequenced in order to captivate their audiences within attentive rather than distractive regimes.32 Equally, most successful public speakers worked hard to introduce spectacular or idiosyncratic elements into their delivery, and guides to public speaking routinely advised that the personality of the speaker counted for a great deal. In either case, combinations of word and image worked cumulatively to

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focus the attention of audiences, helping the proprietors of public shows and exhibitions to convert crowds into audiences. In order to maximize audience attention, a wide range of strategies for combining visual and verbal content were adopted, from the lecture theatres of the Royal Institution to street shows and fairgrounds. But within lecture theatres, public halls and mechanics institutes alone, the styles of popular lecturers were remarkably varied, with many preferring to speak without visual illustrations, and relying upon their vocal abilities to hold the attention of audiences. Others, such as moving panorama and lantern showmen, regularly made substantial use of images, perhaps to illustrate the narrative of a journey, or, with the substantial development of photographic slides during the 1880s, to present specimens gathered from around the world. However, even towards the end of the century, when projection equipment had become cheaper, easier to use and more reliable, images provided by lantern or other means were by no means an inevitable component of popular lectures.33 Indeed, Martin Hewitt argues that throughout the Victorian period, far more significance was usually attributed to the style, personality and tone of the speaker than to any visual illustrations he or she might employ. Arguing that recent work in the history of science as well as studies of pre-cinematic entertainments has tended to over-emphasize the visual dimensions of public lecturing, Hewitt explains that verbal illustration in several forms was far more significant to the wide public culture of lecturing, with press reports dwelling on the physical presence and speaking style of successful lecturers. Such reviews frequently credited the best speakers with an ability to paint word pictures or to create dramatic realizations that captured the imaginations of audiences, features which, Hewitt contends, must also be considered significant components of the platform spectacle. The scale and significance of this platform culture during the latter half of the nineteenth century is hard to overestimate. Surveys of local newspapers in most towns and cities from this period indicate that various forms of lecture, from temperance orations to demonstrations of popular science and from amateur to professional and celebrity performances, took place on a daily basis. Platform culture was pervasive and highly influential, and was an important means of communication for political, reform and evangelical groups of all kinds, as well as for entertainers and popularizers of science. Local lecturing societies were often able to engage an array of different speakers and subjects during the long winter season and by the 1870s and 1880s mechanics institutes routinely interspersed educational material with entertainment. Most often this blending of styles and rhetoric was accomplished effortlessly, part of the patterned variation that characterized later Victorian shows more generally. But occasionally, as Diarmid Finnegan argues, it could court controversy, especially when supposedly neutral subjects became politicized. In the case of the Reverend Daniel William

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Cahill, who was widely celebrated in Britain, Ireland and the United States at the mid-century for his captivating science lectures, celebrity also provided an opportunity to deliver polemical material championing the Irish Catholic cause. Though this double career created considerable notoriety, Finnegan shows that Cahill was far from inflexible in his patterns of delivery, with his strategies for combining scientific material and matters of Catholic dogma varying in each of the countries he performed. This was particularly important when delivering such sensitive material, but successful lecturers were generally required to react to the particular constitutions of their regional and local audiences.34 Doing so was a purely pragmatic matter: lecturers sought to avoid confrontations with their audiences, of course, not least because many of them depended during their careers upon repeat invitations. But still more significant was the print afterlife of shows within newspaper reports, which carried stories of successful or failed lectures to a much wider readership. In fact, by and large the dissemination of print reports concerning popular shows had a stabilizing effect upon them, tending to generate new and repeat custom from well-read, well-informed audiences. For larger-scale shows, from the Polytechnic to Barnum and Baileys touring Greatest Show on Earth, print culture was an invaluable resource, and to a large extent such powerful organizations did what they could to control press reports, or to produce influential (and often profitable) publications of their own. Panoramic shows included a range of instructive pamphlets, maps and diagrams intended to explain to audiences the significance, topographical, historical or aesthetic of what they were seeing. Freak shows carried explanatory story of my life booklets, frequently including medical testimony with scientific explanations for the phenomenon in question. Numerous popular science lecturers also sustained careers as popular authors, neatly creating a closed circle of publicity between the distribution of print and lectures. But the 1851 Great Exhibition, which was reported upon nationally and internationally, generated the most sustained deluge of print commentary, looking variously to celebrate, explain, critique and burlesque the show. Indeed, for Verity Hunt, in her chapter concerning the scale and complexity of the Exhibition, such print supplements provided an essential means for readers to come to some kind of understanding of the show. Not only did they operate as a guide to its countless exhibits, but they enabled these items to be bound together by guiding narratives and metaphors. Among these, Hunt notes that alongside the encyclopaedia, the idea of the circular panorama provided an especially compelling model for the form of vision the Exhibition promised to reproduce, but that even this inclusive metaphor was picked thin by numerous print guides, books and parodies. While these sometimes sought to replicate the expression of wonder at the Exhibitions panoramic spectacle, they also exposed its blind spots, giving voice to unseen or deliberately hidden features: the production methods

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that created certain artefacts or the conditions under which labourers had been obliged to put these into practice. Even here, as the machinery of colonial and exhibitionary power coalesced at the Crystal Palace, the combination of written and visual content created a remarkably nuanced appreciation for the aesthetics and politics of display.

Part III: Staging Knowledge


In their own way, all of the essays in this collection are concerned with the strategies of showmanship and performance through which scientific knowledge (broadly conceived) is made, displayed and disseminated. This section, however, focuses on the way that the staging of knowledge (and by implication its theatricality) was closely tied to questions over the authority, status and legitimacy of the science so performed. Critics such as Alison Winter have pointed out the difficulties of drawing distinctions between heterodox and orthodox science in the period, given that this boundary was itself always being fought over.35 Particularly for popular science, there was constant friction and slippage between What appears, or represents itself as science and what science itself the scientific establishment, or the scientific inquisition marks off as heretical.36 Theatres and public halls the sites of demonstrations and lectures provided both serious and parodic displays of contemporary scientific debates within their more usual repertoires. The chapters in this section demonstrate that staging knowledge includes not just the dynamics of the performance itself, but the interaction between exhibitor and audience that was built up in advance through the rhetoric of handbills and other printed ephemera. For example, in a discussion of the promotional materials used in the freak show business, Marlene Tromp has noted that
[a]lthough promotional hype often proclaimed that the original, authentic, biggest, or smallest was represented at the show, the goal of such advertising was not necessarily to persuade the public of the veracity of such claims but to provoke profitable conjecture. Freak shows attracted audiences by inviting the public to engage in epistemological speculation.37

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However, as Caroline Radcliffe highlights in her chapter on The Talking Fish, this epistemological speculation could also become the material for parody and satire in the press and, more interestingly, in the mainstream London theatres. Therefore we need to rethink not only the nature of science exhibitions and the conflicts between legitimate and hoaxed performances, but the specific engagement with the theatrical. The staging of knowledge needs to encompass the specific architectural, technological and social dynamics of the performance space and its interaction with, and influence upon, the specific performative strategies of the experiment, lecture

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or display. It is an unheralded fact that in the nineteenth century the theatre benefited from chemical discoveries that aided and improved lighting, thus moving performance and its mise-en-scene quite literally into the limelight. The brighter lights of the stage permitted detail and inspection, a facility that became inescapable from elaborate and spectacular performances of all kinds. But it also provided a literal stage on which contemporary scientific concerns could be enacted. As demonstrated in the essays in this section, the performance event of the lecture needs to be addressed alongside the appropriation of science by the theatre; such events offer another insight into how publics experienced science. Caroline Radcliffes chapter examines the issues surrounding shows that claimed scientific credentials and illustrates the role that theatrical strategies and genres played in relation to scientific debates. For audiences of The Talking Fish, it was the perceived human qualities of Jenny that attracted attention. Radcliffe details the press and publicity surrounding the capture and exhibition of The Talking Fish in 1859, in which the staged displays of Jenny whilst ostensibly drawing on contemporaneous debates about animal language mimesis, played more to the affect and emotional engagement of audiences. Furthermore, those performances became the subject of a play and pantomime in the mainstream theatre in which the exhibition space of the seal became theatricalized itself and the focus not of scientific conjecture but of an avowed dismissal of the pretensions of the showman. The plays produced at the theatres emphasized the performative nature of gendered ideologies in the original exhibition as well as the nature of the sideshow genre. Implicitly they questioned the scientific nature of such exhibitions thus entering the debate regarding the legitimacy and authority of popular science. Both Radcliffe and John Miller address the way in which the initial capture of exhibited animals incorporated imperial fantasies of overpowering savage beasts. Millers discussion of Du Chaillus gorilla engages with the scientific and ideological implications of displaying mans primate cousins and the vexed question of truth in relation to exhibition practices. In doing so, Miller highlights the problematic issue of scientists adopting the tactics of the showman. Du Chaillu was perceived to have stepped beyond the role of a popularizer of science, who might use publicity and flamboyant technique to demonstrate an authentic scientific subject, to deliberately adopt theatrical tropes, which diminished rather than supported his claims to authority and truth. The concept of the gorilla as with The Talking Fish transgressed the boundaries of formal scientific arenas and discussion, entering popular culture in a variety of guises. The theme of hoaxing, together with the knowingness of audiences, runs through these essays; in relation to The Talking Fish, the contemporaneous press and public were swiftly aware of the hoax, yet this itself became a part of the publicity. This then seems to mark out the science lecturer and popularizer from

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the showman, whose engagement with science can be happily fraught with contradiction, though such lines are always somewhat blurred. The performance strategies through which an objective scientific high-ground could be authoritatively claimed is also the subject of Martin Williss essay, On Wonder, which addresses the professional conflict between John Maskeylne and George Sexton. The former gave theatricalized performances of spiritualist sances, employing evident trickery to expose the self-same techniques of those who claimed to be in contact with the other world. Conversely, Sexton gave lectures demonstrating the tricks used by Maskeylne and other magicians to highlight what he perceived as their irresponsibility. Crucially whilst addressing the appeal to wonder, Willis also engages with the issue of scientific authority and the truthful presentation of knowledge at a staged event; he details how spiritualists sought such authority for their work, frequently incorporating a lecture into their performance, while magicians, in decrying the work of the spiritualists as hoaxes, protected their own illusions from intellectual enquiry. The essay centres on the intersection between science and theatre, the importance of viewing and evidence, and pertinently questions the boundaries of effective instruction.

Part IV encompasses two related questions that have motivated much recent work on nineteenth-century shows: How did political events and discourses shape the subject matter of shows and exhibitions? And did shows contribute to, mediate, or critique dominant political norms? Popular science was itself obviously part of the ideology of rational recreation, and Jonathan Topham has argued that much more attention needs to be paid to the different uses to which the languages and concepts of science popularization have been put by historical actors.38 Indeed, Ralph OConnor has asserted that the loaded connotations of popular science means that it functions best as an umbrella category, it cannot be expected or allowed to do any serious analytical work on its own: umbrella-categories are convenient catch-alls denoting fields of interest, not heuristic tools.39 The problematization of the label of popular science is but one element within the broader question of how different branches of science and technology were engaged with a variety of political formations, ranging over individuals, events, institutions and discourses. The chapters in this section provide models for elaborating the range of interaction between politics, science and exhibition culture. The second question addressed by this section derives from a notion of politics, initially inspired by Michel Foucault, which regards the production, exhibition and consumption of knowledge as being integral to the workings of power. Sharon MacDonald has argued that the task of this work is to explore the

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Part IV: The Politics of Display

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consequences of particular forms of representation in terms of the distribution of power: who is empowered or disempowered by certain modes of display?40 Probably the most influential early application of this approach to Victorian exhibition culture is Tony Bennetts The Birth of the Museum: History, Theory, Politics, which claimed that the nineteenth-century was characterized by an exhibitionary complex. The growth of public museums and other types of display was a means of simultaneously ordering objects for public inspection and ordering the public that inspected.41 Bennetts claim that power was exercised through the ability to taxonomize objects and bodies was provocative yet, as was often the way with arguments based on the power/knowledge nexus, resulted in too allencompassing claims for the politics of display. A more nuanced and productive model has been that posited by James A. Secord, where knowledge is understood as a form of communicative action.42 Secord argues for the removal of the distinction between the making and the communicating of knowledge, whereby to recognize that questions of what is being said can be answered only through a simultaneous understanding of how, where, when, and for whom.43 Most recent scholarship on exhibition culture has sought to significantly expand and complicate understandings of the interaction between audience and the lecturer/showman. In keeping with this, the chapters in this section foreground the range of political factors that impacted upon the popularity of exhibitions. One recurrent issue is that of topicality: in keeping with their ephemeral nature and the drive for novelty, the success of shows often relied on a continually refreshed topicality, exploiting and reflecting the latest events. The here-and-now provided a means of connecting with audiences. Pantomimes and music halls invariably included references to local figures, recent political events or scandals, or simply changes in the immediate environment such as civic improvements.44 The production of peepshows, panoramas and dioramas was similarly driven by the latest event; the Indian Mutiny, Crimea War, American Civil War, the latest royal tour or gruesome murder, were all turned into visual blockbusters as soon as was logistically possible. And, even if it was not possible, existing scenes could always be altered to take account of the latest event. In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens describes a country fair where one of the exhibits was a worn-out peep-show that had originally started with the Battle of Waterloo, and had since made it every other battle of later date by altering the Duke of Wellingtons nose.45 New sciences, devices and technologies were similarly important in driving the lecture programme of mechanics institutes and athenaeums: the telegraph, telephone, photography, gas lighting, models of railways and steamships, the various applications of electricity; these were all popular subjects. Sadiah Qureshis chapter charts the way that the exhibition and reception of two Zulu shows in London was informed by the eighth Xhosa war in 1853

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and the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. It also links with other chapters in the volume that detail the diverse forms of human and natural history display that formed part of popular science (Radcliffe on The Talking Fish, Pettit on freak shows and Beverley Rogers on Egyptian mummies). A great deal of work has been done on the way in which such shows of displayed peoples, as well as museum and other exhibitions more generally, worked to create, popularize and enforce British imperial and racial attitudes, albeit in often complex and contradictory ways.46 Qureshis focus on topicality is part of her argument for a more fine-grained and nuanced understanding of the political and scientific impact of the exhibition of displayed peoples. While they are often labelled as ethnographic shows, or sometimes grouped under the category of exotic, outlandish or spectacular bodies, Qureshi cautions against over-simplified definitions and/or taxonomies, arguing that associations between displayed peoples, imperialism, and ethnic difference are neither inherent nor self evident; rather, they must be both created and maintained.47 Her chapter unpicks the personal, intercultural and commercial encounter between the showman and Zulu performers, as well as the way that the shows were contextualized by reportage in the popular and illustrated press. Qureshi excavates the agency of the Zulu performers in order to stress that they were anything but passive objects of display, yet there was no such possibility for the Egyptian mummies whose appeal is the subject of Beverley Rogerss chapter. A fashion for all things Egyptian pervaded the first decades of the nineteenth-century: scholarly explorations of Egyptian culture went hand in hand with popular developments such as the opening of the Egyptian Hall in 1812, which became one of the key exhibition venues of the period. More dispersed but equally prominent was the phenomenon of mummy unwrappings. Held at venues ranging from the Royal Institution and Egyptian Hall to aristocratic homes, audiences gathered to see the shroud reveal its secrets. The fascination and fetish of the Egyptian mummy fed off broader imperialist relations, yet were accentuated by the fact that, unlike a static museum display, an unwrapping could be turned into a performance. While the different stages of the unwrapping were ostensibly observed and documented in the name of scholarship, the climactic moment was invariably the theatrical denouement of the body that was so alien in age and appearance. The way that displays and exhibits could become a political and scholarly battleground embodying national sensibilities is also the subject of Ilja Nieuwlands chapter on the exhibition history of Diplodocus Carnegii. Named after the wealthy philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, copies of the dinosaur were given to numerous European institutions in a grand show of American philanthropy. Yet while Diplodocus Carnegii was infused with American largesse, its export led to heated debates between different national scientific communities over how to exhibit the dinosaurs natural posture. Of most relevance to this section is

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the fact that arguments between curators and natural historians were played out through the display of Diplodocus Carnegii; as with the display of Zulus and Egyptian mummies discussed in the accompanying chapters, popular exhibition was an integral part of, and contributor to, learned debate and knowledge. It is this latter feature that, above all, unites the work of the contributors to this volume. Though the exhibition cultures of the nineteenth century were fraught with cultural contradictions, bringing discourses of showmanship into direct debate with the loftier ambitions of science popularizers, it was also the case that both sets of practices drew upon the discourses associated with the other. The showmen drew upon science in order to legitimize and detail their exhibitions, and scientists regularly drew upon the techniques of good showmanship, even while explicitly seeking to distance themselves from the showmen. This degree of fluidity proved highly productive for all concerned. Current work on nineteenth-century exhibition cultures opens onto a potentially bewildering array of organizations, regions, contexts, spaces and practices. This collection focuses on the staging, performance and showmanship through which nineteenth-century popular science was constituted, as well as the diversity of audience responses concerning the way such techniques could be received.

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